Sunday, 26 June 2016

WILLIAM SCHOELL’S 'SPAWN OF HELL'




I’ve been reading a lot of horror lately.  Maybe it’s summer’s calling or maybe it’s just that I’m discovering, or should I say rediscovering, classics.  By classics, of course, I mean the B-grade kind, those that are hard on the gas pedal and light on the rich narrative.  I’ve tried to change, to get serious in my choices, but it seems to be a lost cause.  I always end up dissing whatever may strike other people’s fancy in favor of those faves of mine which truly know how to grab my attention from page one.




Finishing up SPAWN OF HELL by the very talented William Schoell, I can easily confirm that indeed, this 1984 chiller about fabricated monsters invading a small town is a pure treat from cover to cover.  I know, I sound a bit like a walking blurb but I don’t care.  This offering is truly a work of vintage art, one that should be discussed in writing classes as the how-to in creating horror magic on a dime.  Because we all know that Mr. Schoell didn’t spend an eternity in finding just the right words or the prettiest of sentences to tell his story.  No, the guy just skillfully spewed out the basic threads to create an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride that some other reputed authors could and should probably envy.
 
 
Despite some evident lack of finishing touches in his overall delivery and a slew of aggravating typos (it’s a pre-Don D’auria edition), Schoell has another plus in his favor: he can create loving characters.  People we easily connect with in between action sequences.  So instead of minimizing character development, he spends a few chapters focusing on it.  This has been criticized by many who feel that it slows down the plot, and I quite agree.  It does boil down to that, but contrary to, say, Edward Lee or perhaps Gord Rollo (two authors I appreciate from time to time) who spend little time in focusing on characterization, the end result is far more superior. ‘Cause when the blood hits the fan, you do pray for the protagonists’ safety.
 

Another thing I completely dig is the way Schoell gets rid of his people.  And I’m not talking about his demise choices here.  What I’m specifically saying is that no one is safe in this novel.  Any character could meet the grim reaper, any time any day.  This makes the read even more enticing, if you ask me.  Am I going overboard with this Schoell lovin’?  Hum maybe.  But if every novel I venture into could be as rewarding as SPAWN OF HELL, perhaps I’d end up with even more horror titles in my reading pile.  It’s work like this that makes this genre all the more worthwhile.  SPAWN OF HELL is William Schoell’s first novel (it was re-published in 1987 by Leisure).  He wrote several others after that one. I have no idea if they are as engrossing but I’m more than happy to find out.
 

 
POSTSCRIPT:  it looks like SPAWN OF HELL will finally hit the digital market very soon.  Yes, dear readers, just got word that the novel will eventually be re-released as THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT.   More reason for you to get this gem as soon as it’s available.  In the meantime, if you’re really in need of a fix, you can always hunt down a used copy or better yet, try his latest, MONSTER WORLD.  I hear it’s very compelling.

  

 

Until next post—Martin

 


 

 

 

 

Sunday, 19 June 2016

‘LOVERS AND LIARS’ BY NIGEL MAY



Here’s the lowdown on how to write a super sleazy novel. First, you need exotic locations. It scarcely matters where, just as long as it’s a beautiful spot with ancient ruins or white beaches or cobblestone-covered streets; anything that makes the reader go aww. Second, you need glamourous characters.  Men, women, they need to be incredibly fit and striking.  Otherwise, they are not as worthy. Third, you need to incorporate a lot of sex.  It could be straight sex, gay sex, ménage à trois sex; just as long as you fill many pages with it.  And last but not least: don’t show, tell; meaning the reader never needs to interpret anything.  All is spelled out for him/her in a strong narrative way.  Well, in most cases anyway.
 
That, dear readers, sums up mostly what it’s like reading Nigel May’s latest novel (out now from Bookouture), the story of a bunch of jet-setters too wealthy to care about anything but themselves.  When a hotel tycoon bites the dust, somebody cries out murder. Who’s the culprit?   Is it his Lolita of a daughter who uses her body and wit to get what she wants?  Is it his over the hill black wife who’s addicted to plastic surgery and has the hots for anything that moves?  Or is it his business partner who’s into female undergarments and sexual favors?  Those are just a smidge of the many people orbiting around this sexually-charged tale that reminds TV’s EMPIRE but with boxing gloves instead, since the setting this time is the prize ring.  The author clearly has fun moving his fast-paced plot along as he juggles his characters adroitly, but as much enjoyable as the end-result is I must admit I would have liked him to slow it down a little just so he could let his people breathe.  Get to know them a bit more before the bad shit happens, and believe me it does, many times over.  Reason enough to say that LOVERS AND LIARS is far from being boring. 
 
The novel starts out strong in the present day with the killing of Mr. Tycoon then stumbles somewhat when going back in time to focus, amongst other things, on Mr. Tycoon’s repetitive ruthless ways.  It ultimately returns back to the present to finally reveal the identity of his murderer which—gasp, double gasp—this reviewer didn’t see coming. In between you get a lot of sightseeing; a lot of hot sex; plenty of action sequences and even some surprisingly touchy-feely moments (like the heartfelt exchange between Lolita and a hot DJ after the accidental death of a loved one).  All in all, I say read LOVERS AND LIARS, especially if you’re into well-written sleaze.  It may not be my favorite of his (that would be SCANDALOUS LIES) but the man still delivers.  He’s not being hailed as the male Jackie Collins for nothing.   
 

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the chance to read this novel in exchange for an honest review.
 
 
 
 
Until next post—Martin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, 13 June 2016

‘PLACES’ BY ROBIN ST. THOMAS



In the late ‘80s next to my apartment stood this gigantic used bookstore where I mostly got my trashy novels.  One of which was this spotlighted title by Robin St. Thomas from the defunct Zebra line which had always had a bad rep but could deliver some good trash from time to time.  I had never heard of this writer before, but from the look of things, like the SCRUPLES-like cover for instance, I knew that I had found something that could be right down my alley. I wasn’t wrong. PLACES focuses on Aurora O’Brien, a down on her luck beauty who flees to New York to embark on a journey of self-discovery that will eventually make her one of the most sought-after women ever.  How does she become the toast of the town?  Easy: just by being her ravishing self (you know that’s all it ever takes in these types of work).  She is helped mostly by two jet-setters who gladly show her the ropes while partying into the wee hours of the night.  Such a lucky girl, you might think—well, think again because, like in all trashy novels, Aurora will suffer greatly in the name of love.  She’ll not only be attracted to a gay man earlier on but will end up being on the run so not to testify against a baddie lover who causes more trouble than she can bear—all in the space of 574 pages no less.  
 
Suffice to say I had fun reading this book.  The narrative is smooth, the characters are interesting, and the plot is easy to follow. My mind was on pause throughout the whole thing and I quite enjoyed it (sort of like the ‘80s).   Nothing gets my juices flowing more than when I get myself involved with the problems of the rich.  I may read the occasional horror or get myself hooked on the latest scary film but I always come back to my first love: the melodrama.  These novels are my cushions from this hectic world, and PLACES is no different. 
 
The time spent leafing through it had been so rewarding that I made it my mission to track down other novels by this author. This was all before I could access to a computer, so I visited my local thrift shops and used bookstores but came out empty-handed.  I had to go abroad to finally find one (FORTUNE’S SISTERS, and the cover is sleazier).  It took me a few years via Internet to finally track down the rest, and while doing so I also found out this: Robin St.  Thomas is actually a pseudonym for Robin Stevenson and Tom Bade who also wrote SWITCHBACK under their own names.  I’ve been trying to locate the duo team but as of June 2016 no such luck (scratch author of YA books Robin Stevenson off the list).   One thing’s for sure, though.  The stop’s certainly worth it if you ever get a hold of one of their titles.  They may not be the greatest trashy novels out there but they sure can fill a need whenever one’s caught in between superior oeuvres.
 
 
 
 
Until next post—Martin

 

Monday, 6 June 2016

'HOLLYWOOD WIVES', THE MINISERIES


 
You know the old saying: some things are much better left in the past. Well, that’s exactly my thoughts regarding HOLLYWOOD WIVES the miniseries, the tale of a psychopath searching for his long-lost mama among Tinseltown’s most powerful players.  Although it has a super cast (Stefanie Powers, Angie Dickinson, Rod Steiger, Roddy McDowell…) and super production values I cannot express enough how disappointed I am to have re-visited it.  I would have preferred keeping it lovely in my mind.  Indeed, the first time I ever caught it, I was about 20, fresh from watching the spectacular LACE on ABC the year prior.  It was the mid-‘80s and nighttime soaps ruled the networks.  Every channel dealt with the problems of the rich.  It was about the same time that I got a hold of HOLLYWOOD WIVES, the novel.  It was my first Jackie Collins read, and suffice to say, not my last. From then on, getting everything else she had written became my top priority. 


So imagine the thrill I felt knowing that a miniseries based on the novel was coming to ABC.  It took a few months, but when the three-parter finally aired during February sweeps in 1985, I was glued to the set.  I remember digging the overall presentation, thinking it was relatively faithful to the novel despite the many snips here and there.  I also remember that it won its timeslot, making it a top-rated TV program.  After that, I heard that its sequel HOLLYWOOD HUSBANDS was in the works; then nothing; nothing until LUCKY/CHANCES made its way to NBC in 1990. 

It took 30 years for HOLLYWOOD WIVES to finally hit the DVD market in North America but when it did I immediately got myself a copy, of course.  The five hour event (without  commercials) is on two discs. Though a technical anomalies warning is issued before viewing, I can attest that the overall image quality is quite decent.  The sound quality, however, is another matter.  The dialogue may be crisp and clear, but the background music on the other hand is almost ear-splitting, forcing the viewer to lower the volume repeatedly.  Irksome perhaps but tolerable enough (at least it was to me) when compared to the joy of finally seeing this miniseries all over again. 

Well, that’s what I thought at first, but it soon became apparent that I had been misled by my youth and exuberance.  The whole thing ended up being sillier and more unrealistic than I could ever have imagined.  I know it’s Jackie Collins we’re talking here, but many a time did I find myself uttering those irritating comments you despise when coming from others: yeah right, that’s impossible, or my favorite: Oh bitch please!  Take the character of sexpot Gina Germaine, played by fresh from her THREE’S COMPANY dismissal Suzanne Sommers.  Gina wants a part desperately.  So she bangs director Neil Grey (Anthony Hopkins) for it.  While he takes a shower she reaches inside his garment bag and produces the secretive script.  Now, how would she know it’s there in the first place?  Is she psychic or something? There is no mention of him telling her or us where he hides it.  But more importantly, why would he put it there? Wouldn’t it be much simpler to keep it under lock and key, like in an attaché case perhaps?  I could go on and on (don’t get me started on Candice Bergen’s shoplifting scenes) but this is just one of many implausible situations that are there just for the sake of keeping the plot going.   

I can already hear some of you advising me to take it all with a grain of salt, and I would if HOLLYWOOD WIVES the miniseries had not been such a downer after all.  Maybe it just proves something:  that my love for anything glam-related does have a certain limit, that whatever I’m watching or reading or re-watching or re-reading needs to be brought up to a certain level of consistency for me to enjoy it completely. Otherwise it’s a no-no. 

 

 

Until next post—Martin